It’s been almost seven years since the 2014 summer war in Gaza, but the discussion of the current fighting going on between Israel and Hamas seems as if it’s being read from the same script. Just like then, many voices are raised in defense of Israel. Others say they are supporting the Palestinians. But the most influential voices in the media and popular culture tell us to discard the two sides’ narratives or versions of history. They demand that we adopt a nuanced discussion of the conflict.
Human suffering is deplorable, no matter the identity of the victims. It’s also true that the century-long conflict between Jews and Arabs is complex and all too often misunderstood. And, as in all wars, there are innocent victims on both sides.
Even as we acknowledge those points to be true, there is a limit to what a global perspective in which the faults of both sides are noted can teach us about what’s really going on. The instinctual reaction of those who call down a plague upon both houses is to see all wars as mere madness in which the combatants are to be equally condemned.
But at the core of the effort to promote nuance about the conflict between Israel and Hamas is something that is fundamentally dishonest.
There are those, like Jodi Rudoren, the editor of The Forward, who previously presided over The New York Times’ biased coverage of the fighting between Israel and Hamas in 2012 and 2014, who tell us to forget about the history of the conflict because it is an endless argument that only prevents both peoples from moving forward and making peace.
To a certain extent, that approach was echoed by Trevor Noah, the host of a far more important forum, “The Daily Show,” a politicized comedy show from which, sadly, many young viewers get most of their information about the news of the day. Noah, a South African-born comedian who poses on American television as a dispenser of insight, is equally dismissive of the past since, in his bowdlerized version of history, it’s just an endless argument in which no one is in the right.
The point of this kind of commentary is not so much to advocate for greater understanding, but to depict the Palestinians as the more sympathetic underdogs who are being abused by the Israelis, routinely painted as the bullies of the situation. This is backed up, as was the case in 2014 by casualty statistics. As of this writing, seven Israelis have been killed by indiscriminate rocket and missile strikes launched by Hamas and other terror groups in the Gaza Strip at the Jewish state’s cities, towns and villages. By contrast, reportedly approximately 100 Palestinians have died in Gaza as the result of strikes by the Israel Defense Forces against Hamas positions.
Many, but not all, of the Palestinians killed are Hamas operatives responsible for the attacks on Israel. Others were killed by Hamas projectiles that fell short and landed on their own people. But what is important to know is that Arab civilians were not and are not targeted by the IDF. Some died, as has happened in the past, because despite heroic efforts by the Israelis to warn non-combatants to flee Hamas positions and to hit only legitimate military targets, the terrorists use their fellow Palestinians as human shields.
Like many claiming to promote a nuanced approach, Noah expects Israel to use more restraint. This familiar argument claims that the Jewish state’s response is disproportionate because more Palestinians have been lost in the fighting than Israelis.
Talk of a proportionate response is disingenuous. Would Israel’s critics really be happy if it responded to Hamas attacks in a similar manner by simply lobbing shells in the direction of Palestinian population centers? Of course not.
More to the point, if a greater number of Palestinians die, it is because their Islamist rulers in Gaza think that is an optimal outcome, which helps besmirch Israel’s reputation. If they cared about saving lives, they would build bomb shelters for their citizens. Gaza, which has what may be one of the world’s most elaborate and extensive tunnel systems, has shelters, but they are not used for people. They’re for the bombs they shoot at Israel and those who fire them.
Would those who make such arguments be happier if more Israelis were dying? Perhaps. But the unwillingness of much of the international community, including those who purport to represent “human rights” organizations, to hold Hamas accountable is what’s wrong with the discourse on the conflict.
Nor is there any real moral equivalence about the arguments that were supposedly the pretext for Hamas’s decision to fire what is now more than 2,000 projectiles into Israel this week.
Despite the distorted coverage about the court case regarding property rights in the Sheikh Jarrah section of Jerusalem, Jews weren’t stealing Palestinian land. Claims about Israeli outrages on the Temple Mount are equally false since the mosques there were being used as storage places for projectiles and fireworks to use against police seeking to restore order amid riots and to disrupt Jewish worship at the Western Wall.
Nor is there any room for “even-handed” arguments about decades of Palestinian rejection of peace proposals or what followed as Hamas sought to one-up Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas and his Fatah Party, which fomented riots in the city by coming to the “defense” of Jerusalem by unleashing their missiles on Israeli civilians.
Part of the problem is that too many people simply throw up their hands in the face of the complexity of the conflict and the suffering it causes. They see making judgments about the two sides as somehow granting legitimacy to war, rather than a moral response to a battle between an imperfect yet functioning democracy and a terrorist state.
Unfortunately, many people view Israel through the lens of anti-Semitic attitudes about the Jews and the right of their state to exist. For those in the fast-growing left-wing of the Democratic Party, Israel is an oppressor colonial state imposing “apartheid” on innocent Palestinians. That’s the narrative that was heard about the conflict on Thursday evening when 11 leftist members of Congress spent an hour on the floor trashing Israel and depicting the Palestinians as innocent victims of an abusive power.
To their credit, nine other Democrats rose prior to that to defend Israel and denounce Hamas.
The problem here is not just the fact that the Democrats’ leftist “Squad” has grown in numbers. Those trashing Israel have gained influence because their ideas are now fashionable. The intersectional ideology that they preach in which the Jewish state is falsely labeled as an expression of “white privilege” and “racism” has been legitimized by the acceptance of the Black Lives Matter movement and the ideas of critical race theory that underpin both.
This places those who claim to support Israel while also backing those ideas in an impossible position since it is precisely intersectionality that allows those who rationalize the role of Hamas—a group pledged to the destruction of the only Jewish state on the planet—to pretend that they are speaking for justice rather than for murder.
Those who respond to the current conflict by disparaging both sides and seeking an even-handed position are doing more harm than good.
When Islamist terrorists rain down missiles on Israel, it’s not enough to talk about complexity or to pray for peace. The only moral thing to do in the face of the calumnies thrown at Israel is to denounce the lies about apartheid and terrorism, not to talk about restraint from both sides.
If you care about justice, and the lives of Jews and Arabs, as well as the theoretical hopes for an end to the conflict, you have to support efforts to defeat Hamas, not appease or reward it as may be the case if international pressure forces a cease-fire before its capacity to do more harm is sufficiently reduced.
Until Hamas is effectively disarmed, all talk of nuance is simply helping those who are deliberately shedding the blood of both Jews and Arabs to advance an agenda rooted in hate. Those who cannot grasp this or who cling to ideological talking points about privilege to justify their stands aren’t expressing compassion or even neutrality. They are aiding and abetting murder.
Jonathan S. Tobin is editor in chief of JNS—Jewish News Syndicate. Follow him on Twitter at: @jonathans_tobin.